Anaplasmosis is an emerging tick-borne illness in Maine, more serious than Lyme disease. But most people have never heard of it.
"I had never heard of anaplasmosis – until I was diagnosed with it," said Steve Laskey, a Whitefield resident who contracted the illness last spring. Laskey and his wife have had Lyme disease before, so he is vigilant about tick checks.
But one morning last May, he found a small deer tick on his forearm. There was no bulls-eye rash, so he quickly forgot about it. One week later, he was coming down with aches and body chills. He had a hard time eating and sleeping. He was quickly losing weight. So he went to the emergency room.
"I knew it wasn’t Lyme, because Lyme was not anywhere near that extreme," he said.
A blood test revealed that his flu-like symptoms were anaplasmosis. After three weeks of antibiotics, Laskey recovered. But he knows it could have been much more serious, left untreated.
"It’s a very dangerous disease," he said.
The Maine CDC reports that cases of anaplasmosis have spiked in recent years. Last year, there were more than 400 cases in the state, up from just 52 five years ago.
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"We’ve seen an increase every year," said Dr. Rob Smith, Director of Infectious Diseases at Maine Medical Center. Dr. Smith said anaplasmosis can be fatal, but most patients recover quickly.
"The key thing is recognition, and early treatment," he said.
Tick researchers have been documenting the growing population of deer ticks in Maine for years.
Vector Ecologist Chuck Lubelczyk said in some parts of the state, 10 percent of deer ticks are infected with anaplasmosis. Like Lyme disease, it takes 36-48 hours for an attached tick to transmit the disease. Because Maine experienced a warmer-than-normal fall, he thinks ticks will be more active this time of year.
"If people need another reason to be concerned about ticks this fall, anaplasmosis is one of those reasons," he said.